The Berlinale spotlight shone on African cinema on Saturday with the premiere of Senegalese filmmaker Alain Gomis’ Kinshasa-based drama “Félicité.”
The film centers on a strongly independent and passionate singer in the Congolese capital who is forced to raise money for her son’s operation after he has an accident.
While grateful for the opportunity to screen his film in Berlin, Gomis, speaking at a press conference, expressed frustration with the travel restrictions on Africans in Europe and in particular the problems faced by his Congolese actors Véro Tshanda Beya, Gaetan Claudia, and Papi Mpaka in obtaining visas to attend the festival. “Getting the visas was really difficult for our three incredible actors. Trump has been in Europe for years and years, the paranoia is extraordinary.”
Gomis said that while the film deals with problems that exist, “we wanted to be optimistic … not naive, but in the framework of our reality and the difficult realities that we encounter. We keep going, keep building, keep remaking things again and again.”
Indeed, the director said he and director of photography, Céline Bozon, were intent on showing the stark realities of life in Kinshasa as they are. Replying to a question about the lack of light in some of the night scenes, he explained, “It’s dark at night, it’s important to show that, to show the journey the characters are going through. It was important for me and the DOP to respect the night. It makes no sense to shoot at night with massive film set lighting. At night you lose your bearings.”
Beya added that she based her portrayal of Félicité on her own experience and the reality of her city. “I have no background in acting or theater. I managed to do this role because it’s our daily life in Kinshasa. Someone gets ill, they die, you see tragedy. I interpreted this character based on what I see around me. You see these things in the DRC, this happens all the time. It was a difficult experience.”
Discussing the film’s financing, a French-Sengalese-Belgian-German-Lebanese co-production, French producer Arnaud Dommerc said there was growing interest among international producers in what’s going on in Africa. “It’s not just about handing out support, it’s a give and take. It’s also about how people connect.”
Gomis added that the film secured about a quarter of the film’s budget from a Senegalese production fund as well as support from Gabon’s National Center of Cinema. The pic was also backed by the Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund.
“Things are moving on that front. There’s a Belgian producer, French producer, all kinds of people on board,” Gomis added. “Being able to get money from different sources makes us more independent. We’re very grateful to be able to work independently.”
Gomis said his film also represented the future. “ ‘Félicité’ is not just about the characters but also about what is coming now. The young generation of filmmakers have grown up without ever having gone to the cinema because there are no more cinemas in Africa. In Kinshasa, I felt like I was at the center of the world, this is where’s it’s happening. There’s an extraordinary energy there.”